Santa Rosa Island

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Whale Watching in Santa Barbara California

Plan a trip to Santa Rosa Island for a California beach vacation you'll never forget. This is such a special place.

Santa Rosa Island is one of the only places left where you can go beach camping in California.

Boat trips to Santa Rosa are only available from April through November.

So, take this rare opportunity if you ever get the chance.

Located between San Miguel and Santa Cruz Islands, Santa Rosa is 26 miles offshore and 46 miles from Ventura Harbor (find it on the map).

The boat ride from Ventura Harbor takes 2.5 - 3 hours. You'll see lots of marine life as you cross the Channel; certainly some sea lions, probably some dolphins, and if you're lucky, a whale or two.

Check the Island Packers schedule and boat fares to begin planning your island trip.

Fly To Channel Islands National Park

Santa Rosa Island Airplane

Santa Rosa is the only island in Channel Islands National Park which allows air service.

On a clear day, the view during this 25-minute flight is spectacular!

Channel Islands Aviation provides regularly-scheduled air service to this island from Camarillo Airport, and Santa Barbara Airport by special arrangement.

The Santa Rosa airstrip is near Water Canyon, about one mile from the beach. Here are Channel Islands Aviation ticket prices and flight schedule.

Take A Rare Southern California Day Trip

The diverse landscape of Santa Rosa Island offers something for everyone: high central mountains with deep canyons open to gently rolling hills, beautiful beaches, and coastal wetlands...

...reflecting an untouched California.

While the 100-year-old pier is being rebuilt, visitors take a skiff to go ashore on Water Canyon Beach at Bechers Bay.

During a skiff landing, you may become wet from surf & spray. It's a good idea to waterproof your belongings for this trip.

Santa Rosa Island - Bechers Bay

Because it's so far out in the ocean, this island is almost as windy as San Miguel Island. Average wind speed here is 20 mph. Due to frequent strong winds, water sports around Santa Rosa Island are not recommended for beginners.

The Best Time To Visit Santa Rosa Island

Weather conditions are usually best from August through October. The winds and water are relatively calm and there's almost no rain. Ocean water temperatures range from the upper 60s (°F) in the fall to the lower 50s (°F) in the winter.

Campers after September 15 have a rare opportunity to explore Skunk Point State Marine Reserve and the wreckage of a wooden sailing ship. It takes all day for this 16-mile-round-trip hike.

For over 80 years, public access to 90% of the island has been restricted from mid-August - mid-December for a private, trophy-hunting business (see Vail & Vickers below). This being the last year of the lease, I expect these restrictions will change in the near future.

Santa Rosa Island Public Closure Map

So, Carrington Point and Lobo Canyon are off-limits from mid-August to mid-December. The popular coastal hiking areas stay open all year.

Santa Rosa Island Restricted Area

The blue area in the map above is for day-use only during the hunting season. Cherry Canyon Loop Trail is open for hiking only from 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM from mid-August - mid-December.

More Things To Do On Your Day Trip

Download the island hiking map and guide, to help you plan your visit.

Santa Rosa Island Hiking Map

Day hikers have 3 - 3.5 hours to explore the island. This is plenty of time to:

Santa Rosa Island - Water Canyon Beach

Explore Water Canyon Beach. This 2-mile long white sand beach along Bechers Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Channel Islands National Park. At minus tide, you'll have access to a pristine tidepool area around the pier.

Hike the Cherry Canyon Loop Trail. It has some steep sections that bring you to a coastal bluff overlooking Bechers Bay, and then back down to the Water Canyon Beach trail. Picnic tables on the bluff make a scenic rest stop for lunch. This moderate hike is about 3.5 miles long.

Santa Rosa Island - Torrey Pines View

If you want to see the rare Torrey Pines up close, expect to spend the entire 3 hours hiking. See some of the rarest pines in the world. This hike is moderate to strenuous and on a clear day, the view from up there is stunning!

National Parks Camping

There is a lot more to this island than you could possibly see in 3 hours, and plenty to do over a weekend camp out.

If you like tent camping and backpacking, why not plan a weekend camping trip in Channel Islands National Park? (Remember: Schedule your transportation FIRST.)

Santa Rosa Campground

Between Carrington Point and East Point, camping is allowed in Water Canyon Campground year round.

NOTE: This campground will be closed from October 11, 2011 through January 15, 2012 for the removal of all remaining deer and elk.

There are 15 campsites available here and the minimum camping stay is 3 days, usually Friday - Sunday. It costs $15 per night to camp in Water Canyon Campground. Campsites fill up quickly, so plan ahead.

The campsites are protected by a windshelter with a roof. Campsites include a picnic table and food storage box.

This campground even has an indoor toilet with running water and a solar shower! What luxury! The water is safe to drink. But don't expect it to taste good.

Santa Rosa Island - Campground

Santa Rosa Island - Campground

If you plan on camping, make your transportation arrangements BEFORE reserving your campsite.

Be prepared for adverse conditions. The weather can be hot and sunny or foggy and damp. Campers should bring supplies for an extra day, too, in case ocean conditions prevent boats from picking you up on schedule.

The Benefits Of Camping

Skunk Point State Marine Reserve is closed from March 1 - September 14 to protect the snowy plover habitat. Beginning September 15th, campers have the rare opportunity to explore this beautiful beach.

Santa Rosa Island - Southeast Anchorage Beach

This special East Point hike is 16 miles, round trip. It takes all day to hike down the Coastal Road past Skunk Point to East Point.

It's a very scenic hike with plenty of coastline to explore along the Southeast Anchorage near Skunk Point State Marine Reserve.

Santa Rosa Island Scorpion Anchorage Waves

Santa Rosa Island Skunk Point Shipwreck

It's exciting to see the wooden shipwreck buried in the sand at Skunk Point.

The Jane L. Stanford is the largest wooden shipwreck within the Channel Islands National Park. This majestic ship once hauled lumber across the Pacific Ocean. She was shipwrecked here in September 1929.

Plan another day for one of the most beautiful hikes in Channel Islands National Park.

Santa Rosa Island - Lobo Canyon

See Lobo Canyon - This dramatic canyon features a year-round stream surrounded by colorful wind-sculpted sandstone cliffs. It's a strenuous 9-mile hike out to the spectacular coastline, and well worth the effort.

Explore Water Canyon - A year-round stream flows through this 6-mile canyon.

Santa Rosa Island - Carrington Point

Or, hike out to Carrington Point State Marine Reserve.

Climb Black Mountain if you're up for a strenuous 8-mile climb up 1300 feet to the top. Weather permitting, the stunning view from up there includes the mainland, San Miguel Island, and Santa Cruz Island.

Beach Camping in California

Beach camping in California is rare on the mainland. But there are miles of beach camping available on Santa Rosa Island from August 15 - December 31. And, it's free!

The catch is...

...backcountry beach camping is not for amateurs.

The backcountry coastline is remote and conditions can be extreme. The harsh environment, rugged terrain, strong currents and off-trail hiking are suited for experienced and well-equipped backpackers and kayakers only!

The National Park Service recommends that all backpackers bring topographic maps (National Geographic's topo map of Channel Islands NP icon) and kayakers have nautical charts (Chart 18720: View online) before departing on their journey.

Santa Rosa Island Map

Beach camping is allowed:

  • August 15 to December 31 - between East Point and South Point
  • September 16 to December 31 - along the western coast between Carrington Point and South Point.

Reservations are free and must be made in advance. Download this Santa Rosa Backcountry Beach Camping guide and call (805) 658-5711 to make your reservations.

Santa Rosa Island History

The oldest human skeleton in North America is from Santa Rosa Island. In 2006, these remains were determined to be from a male. The Arlington Springs Man is more than 13,000 years old.

Santa Rosa Island - Pygmy Mammoth Skeleton

The world's most complete pygmy mammoth remains were discovered on this island in 1994. These pony-sized mammoths became extinct more than 12,000 years ago.

Pygmy mammoth remains have also been discovered on Santa Cruz Island and San Miguel Island. Learn more about the Life and Times of the Pygmy Mammoth through these educational videos.

For more than ten thousand years, Chumash Indians occupied the four Northern Channel Islands. As European explorers and Catholic missionaries settled on the California coast, the Chumash population declined. By the 1820s, the last of the Island Chumash were moved to the mainland.

By 1862, the More family owned all of Santa Rosa Island. The Civil War brought with it a great demand for wool used to make soldiers' uniforms. In 1874, 300,000 pounds of wool was produced on this island.

For 40 years, the island was used primarily as a sheep ranch. By the end of the 19th century the More era came to a close, as Vail & Vickers began their acquisition of Santa Rosa Island.

Vail & Vickers

Walter L. Vail and J. W. Vickers purchased the entire island in 1902. They immediately converted the sheep ranch into a cattle ranch.

In 1929, The Vail family imported non-native Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain mule deer and began a trophy-hunting operation.

Santa Rosa Island - Ranch House

The US Government forced Vail & Vickers to sell their property in 1986. The sales agreement required all cattle be removed from the island by the end of 1998.

The sales agreement also allowed Vail & Vickers to retain the use of the ranch house and 90% of the island for 25 more years.

Vail & Vickers' lease expires, on December 31, 2011. All deer and elk on the island must be removed by the end of the year. It will be interesting to see what happens to Santa Rosa Island in 2012.

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Learn More About Channel Islands National Park

Anacapa Island | Santa Cruz Island | Santa Rosa Island | San Miguel Island | Santa Barbara Island

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